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In-house counsel relishes spreading goodwill

Bartels-Farrell-JoanThey must go through a lot of tissues at Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin Inc.

The organization’s general counsel and vice president, Joan Bartels Farrell, described the emotions employees experience when someone graduates from a Goodwill training program.

“Tears, and then it puts a big smile on your face and then you laugh,” Farrell said. “It is so rewarding to see someone’s life transformed by simply getting a job; getting the experience, the dignity and the feeling of self-worth that comes from it.”

It happens often. Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin is the largest of more than 165 Goodwills worldwide. Last year, it provided services to more than 61,000 people with disabilities or disadvantages. And it employs 5,700 people, some 28 percent of whom are disabled.

Farrell said she was drawn to the job because she’s always felt strong ties to her hometown, Milwaukee, and wanted to use her law degree to give back, while still enjoying a challenging career.

“When I learned about the organization,” she said, “how big and diverse of a social-enterprise corporation it really is, it appealed to the business-law generalist side of me, as well as my sense of wanting to join a team and be a part of something that has such a tremendous impact on the community.”

Farrell’s job emphasizes the “general” in her title, as she is the nonprofit’s lone in-house attorney. She’s been juggling a variety of legal work since her first job at a big Milwaukee firm, however.

When she began her legal career in the late ‘80s, she said, women still were fairly new to the profession and, because of her gender, she often was assigned the non-litigation “miscellaneous” work at her firm.

“It was, ‘Who knows how to do this?’” she recalled with a laugh, “and the answer was, ‘I don’t know. Let’s give it to Joan’.”

At the time, she said, she wanted to “be in court with the guys,” but soon realized it was for the best because the work laid the foundation for her later focus as a business generalist.

Jackie Hallberg, Goodwill’s president and CEO, said Farrell is “an outstanding attorney and a trusted and valued asset.”

“Joan has excellent interpersonal skills and can converse with individuals of all backgrounds,” Hallberg said. “She has the ability to make sense of large volumes of complex information, is creative and can always be counted on for reasonable solutions when issues and unique situations arise.”

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